The national computer science education conference in Los Angeles, California brought together state leaders, local educators, and industry partners to discuss strategies to expand access and equity in computer science education.
By Catherine Van Ness
NGA Chairman Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson selected K-12 computer science education as the focus of his NGA Chairman’s Initiative. During his year-long tenure as NGA Chairman, Governor Hutchinson will host convenings and conversations with other Governors as the Initiative aims to expand equitable access to K-12 computer science education across the United States and its territories.
In early November, Code.org hosted the annual computer science education conference (CSEdCon) in Los Angeles. NGA staff were among the 270 participants from 47 states and 10 countries in attendance. The three-day conference brought together state leaders, local educators, and industry partners to examine new research and discuss strategies to expand access and equity in computer science education.
On November 3, CSEdCon opened with a presentation of updated data from the 2021 State of Computer Science Education Report. Promising progress has been made with over half (51 percent) of public high schools in the United States offering computer science classes. Examining the student population of these schools reveals that over three quarters (78 percent) of American students attend a high school that offers at least one computer science class. While these numbers represent significant gains over the past few years, there is still room for improvement before all students have access to these important classes. An emphasis was placed on students’ equitable access and experience throughout the conference, including discussion of the CAPE Framework developed by the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance.
Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org offered his assessment of recent progress in computer science education and his vision for the next decade of possibilities. He talked about how the pandemic accelerated many foundational aspects of computer science education, particularly when it comes to closing the digital divide. Governors across the country made great strides in expanding access to digital devices and reliable broadband connection, with 90 percent of students now having access to their own device. Hadi also pointed to the adoption of these devices by adults and employers offering remote work options as a catalyst for greater public understanding of the importance of computer science education. The 2021 Hour of Code event in December will highlight the theme that anyone anywhere can learn to code.
Later in the day, another plenary session expanded to the global perspective, illustrating what computer science education looks like in various countries. A recent Brookings Institute report, Building Skills for Life: How to Expand and Improve Computer Science Education Around the World, outlines economic and other motivations for bolstering computer science education, including four key challenges observed across the globe. During the panel discussion, Emiliana Vegas, Brookings Senior Fellow and co-author of the report, pointed to teacher capacity as her top concern when it comes to continued expansion. She recommended that states and countries first offer computer science in earlier grades to develop a collective understanding of the subject before offering in-depth classes in secondary schools. The other panelists described their experiences in Canada and Chile, two of the eleven case studies that informed the Brookings Institution report, including a case study of Arkansas’ successful computer science education expansion.
The following day began with a discussion between national, state, and district education leaders. All three leaders identified strong partnerships as a key to success for computer science education expansion. Superintendent Baesler also highlighted the importance of strong national and statewide leadership and commended Governor Hutchinson for his NGA Chairman’s Initiative. Claudio De Larin emphasized the importance of empowering girls and young women to pursue computer science education and Superintendent Baesler discussed efforts to reach more tribal communities in North Dakota. From her perspective at the district level, Sophia voiced the need for more exposure to computer science in pre-service teacher education programs.
During a workshop session, NGA K-12 Education Director Seth Gerson joined two state computer science leaders to discuss the Chairman’s Initiative. Angel Malone, CTE Director at the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, and Anthony Owen, State Director of Computer Science Education in Arkansas, both emphasized the multi-year process their states undertook to reach the point where they are today. In both states, 92 percent of public high schools offer computer science classes – a significant improvement over the national average of 51 percent. Seth also celebrated the fact that computer science education has historically been a bipartisan issue and that Governors can play a central role in expansion efforts by providing guiding leadership and convening stakeholders in the public and private sectors.
Anthony underscored the need to be strategic in computer science education expansion and shared Arkansas’ Computer Science and Computing Initiative Strategic Plan. Angel shared advice from her experience with South Carolina’s implementation of a requirement for computer science credit for high school graduation. She discussed the many interrelated factors that lead to high-quality implementation.
The closing plenary on Friday featured Stephen Pruitt, President of the Southern Regional Education Board. Stephen offered advice to the various stakeholders in attendance representing the computer science education field based on his experience implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. He recognized the important role that school counselors can play in guiding students to certain classes and called for policy changes that lighten their administrative burden so that they can focus on better advising their students alongside analysis of school master schedules to ensure all students can access computer science classes without scheduling conflicts.
NGA looks forward to future opportunities to highlight Governor Hutchinson’s NGA Chairman’s Initiative and will continue to support Governors and their staff as they seek to expand K-12 computer science education in their states.